One-issue Voters

As a thinking exercise, I sometimes ask whether it would be wrong to be a one-issue voter if the issue were slavery. In his debate with Lincoln, Douglas argued an essentially pro-choice position: let the southern states decide whether and when to end slavery. At the risk of sounding like an intolerant moral absolutist, I assert that pro-slavery Christians were wrong.

Perhaps I should defer more to the Supreme Court ruling (Dred Scott vs. Sanford) on who is a person and citizen. But God’s law transcends Supreme Court rulings. And yes, I know that some Christians find verses in the Bible that seem to justify the enslaving of Africans. But they are wrong. How can one even look at a slave and deny he is a person?

Perhaps I am too narrow. I would vote for an atheist before a pro-slavery Christian. I would vote for an incompetent candidate who promised to end slavery before I would vote for an intelligent and skillful pro-slavery candidate.

Perhaps I should care more about foreign policy, the economy, western expansion, and the Indian problem. Perhaps I am guilty of shoving my anti-slavery morality down the throats of others instead of letting slave owners make a private moral decision.

After all, I really don’t want to be associated with the John Brown types who wave a Bible in one hand and gun in the other.

I often wonder how history will judge me. An unbalanced and intolerant one-issue fanatic?  A courageous and compassionate defender of the helpless?

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.

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  • Teckla Wilson

    I want to be in with the ” courageous and compassionate defender of the helpless” group.

    • Mark

      You are!

  • Fabbian L. Detweiler

    Mark I agree with your comments in “One-issue Voters”. I would like to comment on one step further. I took a class called “Working with the Sacred”. We were asked to look at ourselves and where we are slaves. It was amazing all of the items we came up with in the class. How many times do we make ourselves slaves to our children. This is not being of service which is a different subject. How many times are we slaves to fear, the media, and taxes. Service in life and to others is so important but there is a difference in being of service and being a slave. It was a wonderful and insightful class. Thank you for your wonderful article.

  • Marva Peck

    I’m a one-issue voter especially in the last election. It was a very troubling time for me to vote….but when it came down to the wire, I had to vote for the candidate that did not believe in killing babies. I am simply amazed that there are actually people out there that do not believe life begins at conception….just amazed.

  • Linda Clift

    Mark, I too want option two but fear some may see me as an unbalanced, intolerant defender of the helpless.

  • Hi Mark – I’m glad to have found your blog! Really good post, and it helps me put into words how being a “one issue voter” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s a conscientious choice. Just wondering, and I don’t have specifics in mind – but theoretically, what if there were two (or three) issues, each worthy of being a one-issue voter’s issue?

    • Mark

      Hypothetically, let’s imagine one candidate supported letting individuals define marriage any way they wanted: same sex, bisexual threesomes, polygamy, or adult incest. However, this same candidate strongly opposed abortion. His opponent supports traditional marriage, but supports abortion on demand as a woman’s right. While I might believe that abandoning traditional marriage will in the long run harm the country’s social fabric, it does not directly victimize anyone. Abortion, however, ends a human life. Ultimately, as a Christian I am trying to have God’s values as understood by the guidance of His Word and His Spirit. I am trying to use his scales.

  • Philip McNiel

    This piece really came out and said what I’ve been thinking all along: It’s not wrong to be a one-issue voter when lives are at stake. Some will call this narrow, but if Hitler had been a great and good leader except for the Holocaust, would the “narrow” one-issue voters be the only ones who voted against him?

    p.s. the issue of relations with the Native Americans would be nearly as important, if not as important, to me if I were to vote in the presidential election of 1860. They were, in many cases, dehumanized as much as the slaves.

  • Rebekah Barnes

    Thank you! This was well said.

  • Linda

    My voting life has simply been based on one issue. After this election, listening to the media as well as talk shows slamming the Republican party for being involved in social issues I was feeling weary and thinking that I’d not vote again.Thinking that perhaps I was “wrong” to be a one issue voter. I was grateful to see your blog Mark and agree with you. You as always put the truth into words that are encouraging, and right on. Thanks!

  • Larry Wilson

    The only way this argument holds up is to assume that the “one issue” is so crucial that it overrides the importance of every other issue–not just every other single issue but all of them together. So that’s the real question. In your example, slavery and the states’ right to regulate it to their economic interest over the right of the federal government to abolish it, probably falls into that category of a supreme moral issue that trumps all others. And so, voters, or in this case armies, lined up on both sides of this single issue.

    Is there now one single issue that outweighs the combined importance of all of the other issues together–all of the other issues of great moral and ethical consequence? The argument that I hear from some Christians is that the preponderance of other issues outweighs the issues of abortion and marriage. The most often cited issue is the care for the poort. Oh, and NPR, of course.

    I think it can be effectively argued that preventing the shedding of innocent blood, protecting the most helpless of the helpless, is another such issue of supreme value. Of what value is providing for the poor if they are killed before they have a chance to be either poor or rich? I’d rather pull funding for NPR than be forced to provide funding for abortion by imposed health insurance mandates.

    And, the truth is, we are not forced to be one-issue voters since there are many other issues on the table of importance. But, if there were only one . . . . yes, I’d choose life.

    • Mark

      Between WWI and WWII there was an elected leader who did much to lift a whole nation out of poverty. He created jobs and restored national pride. Out of the rubble of WWI there emerged a new and strong Germany. But out of sight, behind high walls, at dead-end of rail lines, something horrible was happening day after day. But this leader did so many other good things for Germany–why be a one-issue voter–unless you are Jewish, Roma, Slavic, or a guy named Bonhoeffer.